Saturday, 6 July 2019

Why I love writing Psychological Thrillers!

As a child, I devoured the Famous Five mysteries by Enid Blyton and was later drawn to crime thrillers, such as A Simple Plan by Scott Smith and The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. Ever since they became recognised as a distinct category, however, I’ve been captivated by psychological thrillers, loving writers such as Minette Walters and Nicci French, from the 1990’s onwards. At the time, I was in awe of all writers and the idea of actually putting together a psychological thriller myself was completely beyond me!

Before I first had a go at writing fiction in 2008, I was a psychotherapist for 15 years. As well as seeing clients with mainstream issues such as low self-esteem, depression and relationship issues, I was privileged to work with ex-convicts from high-security institutions. I found this work fascinating and aside from giving me ideas for novels, it gave me considerable insight into the disturbed and criminal mind.

So, should I try to write murder mysteries or psychological thrillers..? Which would I choose? In the end I didn’t. I put the two genres together.

In my first attempt at a novel, The Evil Beneath, I wanted to create a story that had a distinct mystery on the surface and a deeper psychological thriller lurking underneath. To create dissonance between what the reader ‘knows’ and what the lead character hasn’t yet worked out. I like to find ways to mislead the reader and to create jeopardy from the ‘inside-out’, rather than from the ‘outside-in’. By this I mean that the characters are exposed to danger on a mental level – mind-games and deception – rather than (or as well as!) a physical one.

I’ve written nine psych thrillers to date, with another in the pipeline, and my plots usually centre around the  hidden unreliability or instability of individuals in the story. My protagonists often face a tortuous situation: a missing child, a death made to look like suicide, a stalker, a simple but deadly mistake, for instance. 

In Don’t you Dare, for example, the story starts with a mother misunderstanding a situation involving her daughter and killing someone. This kind of mystery allows the reader to get right inside the minds of key players. It encourages them to try to anticipate how characters might handle certain dilemmas and tempts the reader towards trying to figure out what their true motives are. Not just ‘who dunnit’– but ‘why’ and ‘how dunnit’! It also invites readers to consider: what on earth would I do if I was faced with this situation..?

Most of all, I like the idea of dramatic events happening to ordinary people. A dark and deadly puzzle involving clues where hidden dangers come to light. I love twists and turns and that big OMG moment at the end, of course – that turns everything on its head! In my novel, No Longer Safe, for instance, nothing is as it seems… Many readers told me that when they got to the end of the book, they were so gob-smacked, they had to go back to the beginning to discover how the events turned out as they did! That’s such a great compliment for a writer. I love to knock my readers sideways – and there’s certainly a delicious sting in the tail in that novel!

In all my books I like exploring moral dilemmas and what happens when relationships are blighted by jealousy, secrets, lies or revenge. I like writing ‘domestic noir’ – what could be more scary than thinking you’re safe in your own home and finding that’s where your worst nightmares begin…

My current favourite authors are Belinda Bauer, Claire Kendall,  Lucy Clarke and Sabine Durrant. Brilliant books I’ve read recently are: Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes and Tideline by Penny Hancock.

Enemy at the Window, the latest novel from AJ Waines is OUT NOW, published by Bloodhound Books. 99p/99c for a short period only.

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AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author
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